Arizona Governor Vetoes Prison Reform Bill for First Time Offenders


Arizona has one of the most controversial sentencing policies in the nation. First-time offenders can receive multiple sentences for “repetitive offenses” that occurred within minutes of each other.

The law led to a groundswell for change and across the aisle support for a bill. However, in June, Governor Doug Ducey vetoed Senate Bill 1334, a measure that would have reformed the sentencing for time offenders in Arizona under the repeat offender law.

Arizona Governor vetoes a prison refom bill
A prison reform bill was vetoed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey

The bill attracted strong bipartisan support passing the Arizona House with 49 in favor and no opposition reported News Channel 13.

It was also received favorably in the Senate where it passed 27 in favor to three against.

Ducey said he vetoed the bill because it had  “unintended consequences.” He did not elaborate.

Joe Watson, who spent a decade in prison as a first-time offender, supported the reform. His case highlights the harshness of Arizona’s approach to first-time offenders.

Watson said he faced a potential 214 years in prison as a first-time offender. In Arizona, charges can be stacked for first-time offenders.

He received a sentence of 12 years because he argued his case before a judge instead of settling for a plea deal that would have left him spending at least a quarter of a century incarcerated.

Watson served 10 years even though nobody was harmed and no weapon was used in his offense. He claimed Arizona’s approach to first-time offenders means many people with mental health and drug addiction problems end up incarcerated. He said:

“Like me, the overwhelming majority of people incarcerated committed their offenses because of addiction,” he said. “That’s what we have to treat, behavioral issues, mental health issues.”

He said Arizona doesn’t have a program inside the prison walls to deal with those issues and so the numbers rise along with the price tag.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, the state has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the country. Almost 42,000 people languish in our prisons.

At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney Bernardo Garcia is committed to fighting for the rights of defendants who suffer from mental illnesses. We are well aware of the harsh treatment of first-time offenders and will do everything in our power to keep you out of prison. Please contact us today for a consultation.

Posted in Arizona Laws |

Sleep Deprivation in College Kids Fuels Mental Health Episodes


College students often lose out on sleep. They habitually work late cramming for examinations, or party and lead hectic lives. A new study points out sleep deprivation can have an adverse effect on mental health.

At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney helps people when they get into trouble with the law. He often helps people with mental health disorders. We know how hectic lifestyles and lack of sleep can fuel mental health problems and result in criminality.

Sleep deprivation and mental health
Sleep deprivation impacts mental health

Colleges, whether in Phoenix or elsewhere, can be stressful places. There’s a lot of pressure on students to perform well academically and many are away from home for the first time. Insomnia fuels their problems.

A number of recent studies point to the detrimental effect of a lack of sleep in college students including mental illnesses. Sleep deprivation, according to Harvard Health, affects your psychological state and your mental health. It’s a vicious cycle because people who suffer from mental health problems are more likely to struggle with sleep disorders.

America as a whole suffers from sleep deprivation. Many people have stressful jobs and we work long hours. People with psychiatric disorders are more likely to feel tired and down. Harvard Health stated as many as 50 to 80 percent of people with mental illnesses suffer from sleeping disorders. Insomnia is particularly common in people with depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

While sleep disorders are typically viewed as symptoms rather than the cause of psychological problems, studies suggest a lack of sleep may cause psychological problems. College students are a high-risk group.

Why Sleep Deprivation May Impact Mental Health

The research is important. It indicates treating an underlying sleeping disorder may help alleviate the symptoms of a mental health problem.

Every 90 minutes, a normal sleeper experiences “quiet” or deep sleep. The muscles relax, the body temperature falls, the heart rate drops, and breathing slows down. The deeper phase of sleep causes physiological changes that boost immune system functioning.

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, is the other category of sleep when people dream. It entails an increase in body temperature, blood temperature, and other indicators. Studies suggest REM sleep improves learning and memory and is beneficial for emotional health.

Although scientists are still working on the methodology, they have found disruption to sleep causes havoc in the brain, impairs emotions, and stops people from thinking rationally. Insomnia can exacerbate mental disorders.

When people with mental illnesses end up in the Arizona courts, they often have chaotic lives and little sleep. Our attorney at the Garcia Lw Firm will talk to you and your family members about these issues. Underlying stresses that cause lack of sleep may be important in the courtroom when arguments are made for a lesser sentence, known as sentencing mitigation.

Please contact the Garcia Law Firm today if you or a family member with a mental illness has been arrested.

Posted in Mental Health |

Health Rankings Point to an Increase in Adults Experiencing Mental Health Distress in Arizona


Suffering from a mental health disorder is a major challenge in Arizona. Not only are the courts often unsympathetic to people with mental illness but the state has a serious lack of providers.

According to America’s Health Rankings, Arizona ranks 47th in the nation in terms of access to mental healthcare for its population.

more adults experience mental health distress in Arizona
Arizona sees an increase in people with mental health challenges

The Healthcare provider BlueCross BlueShield of Arizona points out the level of providers remains low even though the number of adults who suffer from frequent mental distress in Arizona jumped by 5 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is addressing the issue through its Mobilize AZ initiative. It provided $560,000 in funding to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ (ADHS) State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP). 

The SLRP is intended to help enlist and keep healthcare officials, including mental health specialists in rural areas that lack qualified mental health professionals.

The program repays the educational loans of healthcare providers on condition they remain in areas that suffer from a shortage of medical professionals.

America’s Health Ranking findings are in line with previous research that highlighted Arizona’s dismal levels of mental healthcare provision.

In 2015, Mental Health America found Arizona was the second-worst state in the country for addressing mental health issues. The Phoenix New Times analyzed the frequency of mental illness in every state and the District of Columbia.

The nonprofit looked at adult and children. It considered the numbers of people with diagnosed mental health conditions, serious thoughts of suicide, and substance-abuse issues.

It assessed the number of adults and children who suffer from mental illnesses but were not receiving treatment and had no access to a doctor or a medical health professional.

The study revealed a huge unmet need in Arizona. Only Oregon had poorer levels of access to mental health services.

In 2014, Arizona stepped up its levels of help for people with acute problems such as severe depression and schizophrenia.

However, the state was found to be failing people with moderate mental illness and failing to intervene before it became acute and they lost their jobs, families, or ended up in trouble with the law.

The study found not enough primary-care physicians are screening patients for mental illness until the disease has progressed and caused serious problems.

At the Garcia Law Firm, we have a long track record of representing mentally ill people in the courts. We know the challenges mentally ill people and their families face and the lack of support networks. Please call attorney Bernardo Garcia today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

Is there a Link Between Shoplifting and Mental Illness?


Most of us have heard of stories of celebrities who were arrested for shoplifting. These are rich people who don’t steal because they can’t afford food for their kids. However, some studies point to a link between mental illness and larceny from stores.

Experts point to a possible link between shoplifting and mental illness
Is there a link between shoplifting and mental illness?

A report in Psychology Today referred to research carried out by Pathways Institute for Impulse Control about kleptomania and compulsive stealing behaviors.

The report said people steal for a wide range of reasons, ranging from poverty to criminality.  However, research on dopamine levels found people can become addicted to stealing in a similar way to alcohol, gambling, and drugs.

Psychological disorders like bipolar disorder, severe depression, anxiety, and kleptomania may be linked to shoplifting. People with impulse disorders often have co-occurring mood disorders and other cluster problem behaviors and addictions, Psychology Today noted.

Although police and courts are often less than sympathetic to underlying mental health issues linked to a shoplifting charge, in some cases, there are clear links between stealing and mental illness.

The Mayo Clinic classifies kleptomania as a mental disorder and an impulse control issue. Sufferers experience an inability to resist urges to steal items that they usually do not need and are of little value. The clinic defines kleptomania as a “rare but serious mental health disorder that can cause much emotional pain to you and your loved ones if not treated.”

Shoplifting can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense in Arizona. The seriousness of the offense depends on the value of the goods or services that are stolen. When the value of an item stolen is over $1,000, the offense is charged as a felony.

In certain jurisdictions in Arizona, people who commit shoplifting can go into diversionary programs. These are often helpful for people with mental disorders and illnesses. Incarceration can have a very detrimental effect on people who suffer from mental illnesses. The environment of a jail or a prison can exacerbate their symptoms.

If you or a family member with a mental illness has been charged with shoplifting, please call our Phoenix criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Theft | Tagged |

Report is Critical of Police Transportation of People with Mental Illnesses


Police departments are heavily involved in the transportation of people with mental illnesses. It’s a role that is stretching police departments and is not helpful for mental illness sufferers, according to a recent report.

A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center found as much as 10 percent of police budgets is spent on the transportation of people with mental illnesses. The Virginia-based nonprofit claimed the role police play in transporting mental ill people strains police budgets. It leaves many officers feeling uncomfortable and is little help to the mentally ill.

Report is critical of police transportation of the mentally ill
Report criticizes transportation of people with mental illnesses

The report pointed out members of law enforcement do not serve as treatment providers for any other illness. However, they have become “road runners,” in responding to mental health emergencies and traveling long distances to shuttle people suffering from mental illness from one facility to another.

The report was published in conjunction with the National Sheriffs’ Association and the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. It was funded by the Achelis and Bodman Foundation. Key findings included the following:

  • An average of 10 percent of law enforcement agencies’ total budgets was spent responding to mental illness emergencies and transporting the mentally ill in 2017.
  • The time spent transporting people with mental illness by police in 2017 amounted to 165,295 hours, or more than 18 years.
  • Police took people five times further to a secure facility after a mental health crisis than when prisoners are taken to a jail or prison. 
  • About $918 million was spent by law enforcement on transporting people with severe mental illnesses.
  • The transportation of people with mental illnesses made up more than 20 percent of police time.
  • Law enforcement officers waited much longer — an average of about 2.5 hours longer — when dropping a patient off at a medical facility than if transporting someone to jail.
  • Some officers waited for 72 hours or more until a bed became available.

The survey was based on the responses of more than 3,000 officers from 355 sheriffs or police departments in 2017. The problem is exacerbated by the gradual reduction in state hospital beds available to patients suffering from mental health issues.

The survey stated institutions failed to admit the patients in about half of the instances. Researchers said:

“Officers spend significant amounts of time and resources serving in a role for which they neither planned nor trained. They are forced to make decisions about where to take someone in crisis, wrestle with how long it will take to get there, and worry about the opportunity cost of leaving their regular duties, all the while knowing the person in crisis may not even receive the treatment he or she needs.”

The results of this survey are particularly worrying because people with mental illnesses are more likely to come to harm in police custody.

A survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center found people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians who are stopped or encountered by law enforcement.

People with untreated mental illnesses comprise about 1 in 50 U.S. adults. However, people with severe untreated mental illnesses like schizophrenia are involved in at least 1 in 4 incidents and as many as half of all fatal police shootings, the center study reports.

People with untreated mental illnesses are more likely to be arrested and their chances of being bailed are lower than the rest of the population, even when they are picked up for minor issues.

At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney has helped people with mental illness to negotiate the criminal justice system for decades. Please call Bernardo Garcia at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged |

Factors that Influence Drug Offense Sentencing in Arizona


Drug offense sentencing in Arizona can be very complicated. Arizona is known for having harsh drug laws. However, two people who face a similar set of circumstances can receive different outcomes based on the evidence an attorney presents to the court. Many factors influence drug offense sentencing in Arizona.

Factors influencing drug sentencing in Arizona
What factor influence drug sentencing in Arizona?

These factors include the following.

  • Were the drugs intended for personal use or sale?
  • How much of the drug was involved?
  • Was the convicted person a repeat offender?
  • What type of drug was involved in the offense?

Sentencing factors in Arizona are contained in the federal and state statutes. The United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines give directions on drug sentencing under federal law. Arizona sentencing guidelines are contained under the Arizona Criminal Code Sentencing Provisions, and A.R.S. 13 Chapters 7, 8, and 9.

The statutory guidelines provide a sentencing range. These include minimum and maximum sentences. The guidelines for methamphetamine offenses, for example, in Arizona are tough. People convicted on a first offense of selling meth, the equipment, or the chemicals to make meth, face a minimum sentence of five years in prison, a presumptive sentence of 10 years, and a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Non-statutory factors may influence drug offense sentencing in Arizona within these ranges. They include the defendant’s character, history, and the circumstances surrounding the offense. The court will consider factors like violence or threats in a drug offense, a prior criminal record, and the nature of the harm to victims. Mental and physical health and substance abuse can be taken into consideration in drug sentencing in Arizona.

The quantity of drugs is particularly important in narcotics offenses in Arizona. The state has so-called “threshold amounts.”

The “threshold amount” is defined as the particular quantity of drugs over a certain amount which attracts a mandatory prison sentence. These sentences apply to both repeat offenders and first-time drug offenders; irrespective of whether they have a prior criminal record.

The threshold amounts are related to the amount of the drug and the degree of danger. Deadly drugs like heroin have much smaller threshold amounts than marijuana.

The threshold amounts relevant to drug sentencing in Arizona include the following:

  1. Heroin – 1 gram;
  2. Cocaine – 9 grams;
  3. Methamphetamine (Meth) – 9 grams;
  4. Amphetamine – 9 grams;
  5. Marijuana – 2 pounds;

At the Garcia Law Firm, our attorney is well aware of the link between mental illness and drug dependency. These factors are important in mitigation. Many people who are arrested for drug offenses are addicted to these substances. Please contact us today over drug crimes.

Posted in Arizona Laws, Drug Crimes | Tagged |

What has to be Proved to Use Arizona’s Insanity Defense?


Arizona’s insanity defense is not used often and it can be difficult to sustain. The defense is also known as guilty except insane (GEI). The defendant must show clear and convincing evidence that he or she was suffering from a serious mental defect that meant the defendant could not acknowledge the wrongfulness of the crime.

A mental disease or defect constituting legal insanity is an affirmative defense. The defendant does not claim he or she did not commit the crime. Mental defects or diseases do not include disorders linked to acute voluntary intoxication or from withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.

Using the insanity defense in Arizona
What you need to prove to use Arizona’s insanity defense

A character deficiency, an impulse control disorder or a sexual disorder cannot constitute legal insanity. To use Arizona’s insanity defense you must show a condition is not temporary, or arising out of anger, jealousy, rage, or other impulsiveness.

People who are using the insanity defense must disclose the results of mental examinations, according to a recent ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court. Criminal defendants must hand over to prosecutors any statements related to the charges they may have made during the mental health examination. The court ruled that the “prosecutors can only use the statements to rebut insanity claims, rather than to prove guilt to protect defendants from this possibility of violating their Fifth Amendment rights.”

The court ruled that forcing a defendant to hand over results of their mental health examination would not violate their right not to self-incriminate. Mental health examinations are considered voluntary if they are not ordered by the court.

What Mental Diseases and Disorders can be Used in a GEI Case in Arizona?

A defendant who makes the plea that they are guilty except insane will be evaluated by a licensed professional with knowledge of state statutes and mental illnesses.

An expert who examines the defendant will submit a written report of the evaluation to the court, the defendant’s attorney, and the prosecutor. 

It’s not easy to establish a GEI defense. You should hire a criminal defense lawyer who has considerable experience in these cases, has used the defense before and knows what needs to be proved. Read about Bernard Garcia’s past cases on our website.  Please contact the Garcia Law Firm today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Mental Health Defenses | Tagged |

Decriminalization of Mental Health Bears Results in One Arizona City


The criminal justice system can be tough on people with mental illnesses. However, some jurisdictions are pursuing the decriminalization of mental health with positive results.

They include Yavapai County in Arizona where Sheriff Scott Mascher is so enthusiastic about his department’s Reach Out program that he wants to tell the world about it.

Decriminalization of mental health offenses proves positive in Yavapai County

He told PoliceOne, the program is making inroads in the problem of people with mental health issues and substance abuse in the criminal justice system.

About five years ago, Mascher was working on a voter issue to extend a jail sales tax. He kept hearing about people with mental illness and substance abuse problems who got caught up in the criminal justice system. Family members would call for help over a mental health crisis and the mentally ill person would end up in the justice system, usually for a minor offense like trespassing or disorderly conduct.

He told PoliceOne, every year more than 11 million people are processed by the prison system. Many of them are low-level, misdemeanors involving no violence. However, the offenses cost local governments about $22 billion annually. The article noted 64 percent of these inmates suffer from mental illness and 68 percent have a substance abuse disorder.

Mascher said the recidivism rate for inmates in Yavapai County is particularly high, rising to 80 percent. People who suffer from mental illnesses are locked up 4 to 8 times longer than people without mental illnesses who are arrested on the same charges. 

Seven times more people who suffer mental health problems end up in jails or prisons than at treatment facilities that can help them. The authorities in Yavapai tackled this problem. They started meeting with their local judiciary, county attorney, schools, mental health providers, legislators, and concerned citizens. They set up a local mental health coalition which proved to be a template for change.

At the Garcia Law Firm, attorney Bernardo Garcia is alarmed about how people with mental illnesses get trapped in jail and prison. We do everything possible to keep your mentally ill family member out of incarceration. Call us at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Arizona Laws, Mental Health | Tagged |

Phoenix Reconsiders Approach of Police to Mental Health as Officer-Involved Shootings Soar


The number of officer-involved shootings of suspects soared in Phoenix last year. Now police are looking at reasons for the spike. The approach of the police department to mental health is being scrutinized.

The Phoenix Police Department has released an independent report on the large number of officer-involved shootings. The number of officer-involved shootings in 2018 was double that of 2017. It rose to among the highest in the country.

The Phoenix New Times reported the detailed report failed to come to a conclusion over the spike in officer-involved shootings.

Police seek to tackle large numbers of officer-involved shootings in Phoenix
The number of officer-involved shootings in Phoenix is soaring

Phoenix recorded 44 police shootings in 2018 — 23 of them fatal. The report identified a significant rise in shootings involving armed suspects and people assaulting cops with deadly weapons.

The report noted the number of assaults on an officer with a deadly weapon almost doubled in 2018, from 42 in 2017 to 87.

Dr. Justin Nix, one of the researchers who worked on the report, said the rise in assaults on officers was significant. It’s not clear if it fueled officer-involved shootings. Although Phoenix police could have responded to an increase in assaults on them with a deadly weapon, the total number of assaults on police officers declined from 991 in 2017 to 951 in 2018. The violent crime rate also slightly during that time period.

Nine key recommendations made by Police Chief Jeri Williams could impact how officers respond to incidents.

The most fundamental change would require the police department to record every time a police officer points a gun at someone. The National Police Foundation maintains police departments that implemented this change ended up with lower rates of police shootings.

The recommendations may result in changes to how Phoenix police deal with people who suffer from mental health issues.

The Phoenix New Times reported city Mayor Kate Gallego said the city will set up a task force focused on the police approach to mental health, as well as the key recommendations outlined in the report.

Williams supports more partnerships between officers and the mental health providers whose job it is to respond to people who face a mental health crisis.

A report on KJZZ noted how Detective Sabrina Taylor works for Phoenix Police as the Crisis Intervention Team training coordinator. Her team brings every stakeholder to the table — from police and behavioral health professionals to advocates, to address the problem.

Attorney Bernardo Garcia has represented mentally ill defendants for decades. You can contact him at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Violent Crime | Tagged |

How Family Caregivers can Help if Your Loved One is in Trouble with the Law


Family caregivers play an important role if your loved one is in trouble with the law in Arizona and elsewhere.

How family caregivers can help after he arrest of a loved one in Arizona
Family caregivers can help a loved one after arrest

No matter who you are or what your mental state, an arrest is a traumatic experience. It’s considerably worse for people with mental health issues. An arrest can trigger a mental health crisis. The defendant might not have medication and no idea how to react to an arrest.

How Family Caregivers Can Help After an Arrest in Arizona

Family caregivers can be invaluable if a loved one is in trouble with the law. The National Alliance on Mental Illness points out family members should act fast after the arrest of a relative with a mental illness.

Police will not always tell you where a family member is being held. You can use an online jail locator to track down a loved one.

If you know which jail your loved one is being held in, you should make sure he or she has their proper medication. Sudden withdrawal from medication can exacerbate mental health problems and trigger a crisis.

If your family member has not informed the jail staff about his or her condition, the caregiver should contact his doctor or psychiatrist as soon as possible.

You may have to contact a doctor in writing. Some medical professionals are concerned about sharing information with jail staff. Caregivers should stress the urgency of the situation. Make the request succinct. Stress the following:

  • The diagnosis of your loved one
  • What type of medication he or she takes
  • The caregiver’s contact information
  • Information relating to your family member’s doctor.

A caregiver should aim to visit a loved one who is in trouble with the law as soon as possible. If the family member appears at a bail hearing, it’s important to attend and provide funds for the defendant to make bail if possible.

The caregiver can also arrange for the mentally ill family member to receive legal representation.

Be persistent in tracking down an attorney and look for a lawyer with a long track record in defending people with mental illnesses.

Going to court and giving as much background as possible about your loved one to an attorney can help secure his or her release. Ask the attorney about pre-trial release or jail diversion programs that could be beneficial.

It’s also important for the caregiver to make sure a family member is not being mistreated in jail. Inform the attorney of any mistreatment and consider contacting organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Family caregivers play a vital role after a family member gets into trouble with the law in Arizona. Working with an attorney can be extremely helpful. Please contact our Phoenix-based criminal defense lawyer today.

Posted in Mental Health |